LOCKPORT — The head of the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government says the Niagara County Legislature's decision not to amend its public speaking rules sends a "loud and clear" message to the public.
According to Paul Wolf, the coalition's executive director, the sentiment is this: "We don't really care what members of the public have to say, unless it is part of our agenda."
Wolf's comments follow a 3-2 vote by the legislature's administration committee. The group had considered a resolution submitted in June by Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, that called for all speakers to be given time during an early part of the legislature's monthly meeting.
Residents commenting on the "good of the county," as it's called, have been relegated to speak after the meeting's adjournment since 2010.
A compromise negotiated in July by Majority Leader Randy Bradt, R-Lockport – and supported by Virtuoso and Wolf – would have allowed residents to speak earlier in certain circumstances and guaranteed their remarks be recorded by the legislature's clerk.
Wolf said he was "surprised" the amended resolution was shot down.
"They would rather not have members of the public bother them with their concerns, so they wear people down by making them wait hours in the hope that they will go away," Wolf said. "It is amazing that a simple change supported by the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government to accommodate the public couldn't be accomplished."
Bradt was the only member of his caucus to support Virtuoso's measure. Bradt's fellow Republicans, Legislators Anthony Nemi, R-Lockport, William Collins, Sr., R-Lockport, and David Godfrey, R-Burt, voted in opposition.
Nemi and Collins did not respond to multiple requests for comment concerning their decision.
Godfrey said Aug. 6 he saw no reason to change the current setup, which he described as fair and more accommodating to residents than rules in other neighboring counties.
Lawmakers decision proved the prediction of Village of Newfane resident Edwina Luksch right. The outspoken government critic, who protested the 2010 changes to the policy, said earlier this summer she had little faith lawmakers would support the change.
Luksch also said the policy is, at least in part, a way to quiet public input. And it's worked, she said. If that is the intention, Wolf said such a tactic won't be successful against his group.
"Rest assured that the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government will not be wore down and nor will we go away," he said.